The social, political and economic development potential of Sindh, now hamstrung by a deep urban-rural political divide, can be unleashed provided the PPP-MQM-P agreement is implemented on the basis of give-and-take, keeping in view the long-term interest of the province’s largest cultural minority and the people of the majority community who have been left behind in the march towards progress, as pledged by the accord.

Those are the industrialised urban centres that radiate growth in its immediate hinterland. The Karachi’s economy, the capital of Sindh, is integrated more with the national and the international markets whereas its role in the development of the rural markets in the province has been minimal. Rural industrialisation has been stifled. The pace of industrialisation of Sindh has fallen behind that of Punjab. This has resulted in painfully slow modernisation of agriculture and the sad plight of landless peasants that is worse than the deprived urban dwellers.

A neglected Karachi, with millions of slum dwellers and its civic facilities in shambles, contributes big to the country’s economic progress and prosperity. It is the financial capital of Pakistan with the headquarters of the central banks and the country’s leading banks located in the city apart from many multinational companies.

Among the country’s big urban centres, the city contributes the highest revenues to the national exchequer while providing employment to displaced farm workers from all federating units. It bears the cost of infrastructure required by Pakistan’s foreign trade through its seaports. But there is rampant poverty in the province’s countryside.

Karachi contributes a major share of revenue to the provincial exchequer and it should be a matter of concern for MQM-P how the money is spent on the uplift of rural areas

Sindh’s political integrity is deeply linked with its economic progress and its fruits being equitably shared, without discrimination, by all its residents.

Notwithstanding the pledge of the two parties (PPP and MQM-P) to develop a long-term relationship to ensure harmony amongst the people for the wellbeing of those left behind, serious doubts are being expressed by many in view of past records whether the agreement will be honoured.

However, things may be seen in the context of the current developments to reach a different conclusion. The present urban-rural divide gave an opportunity for the PTI-led federal government to intervene in Sindh’s provincial domain on the issue of empowerment of local governments with some success. There was also some political support for empowering local governments in rural-based parties. That persuaded the Sindh government to adopt a policy of reconciliation with other opposition parties in Karachi conceding to some of their demands.

And it has been proved beyond doubt that aggravating civic problems of urban areas, particularly Karachi, cannot be resolved by the provincial government alone or together with the cash-strapped federal government, hence the imperative for devolution.

It may also be noted that repeated failures in enforcement of new ideas (read also agreements) is a natural process of gathering the critical mass that leads toward their final triumph. It took Pakistan more than a quarter of a century to produce the 1973 Constitution after the failure of the earlier constitutions.

Instead of ten years as provided in the Constitution, the concurrent list was abolished some forty years later. And the 18th amendment and the 7th National Finance Commission Award have strengthened fiscal federalism and political, administrative and legislature autonomy of the provinces to a level never achieved before. In doing so, political parties have demonstrated a rare show of unity as they did also in reaching the Pakistan Water Accord signed by the chief ministers of four provinces in March 1991.

It is now the turn of local governments to be empowered as indicated by MQM’s tactical gain in securing guarantees provided by political leaders from three other provinces. It translates into countrywide support for the MQM’s ‘Charter of Rights’ with the two sides agreeing that the Supreme Court’s decision regarding local governments would be implemented in letter and spirit within one month and with mutual agreement. In this regard, one cannot ignore the fact that the country is currently engaged in a fierce battle to ensure that all provisions of the Constitution are strictly observed.

While seeking the rights of the urban dwellers, MQM must also recognise its inescapable responsibility to defend equally strongly the rights of the most neglected living in rural areas to enlist their political support for the implementation of the agreement with PPP. The city contributes a major share of revenue to the provincial exchequer and it should be a matter of concern for MQM-P how the money is spent on the uplift of rural areas.

While actively helping the local governments resolve the problems of the people they encounter in dealing with the provincial government departments, the MPAs need to focus on the socio-economic development pertaining to the provincial domain. And similarly, the MNAs should treat the local bodies as their constituency but their main task is to help formulate and implement federal policies.

The PPP and MQM-P accord should also serve as an example for all parties to emulate in evolving a consensus on how to resolve persisting major problems facing the country. Business tycoons say they are more concerned with a change in policies rather than a change in governments. As Ehsan Malik, the CEO of the Pakistan Business Council(PBC), puts it “‘investors value policy continuity more than who happens to be in power.” This is the reason, he adds, the PBC advocates a Charter of Economy for a cross-party consensus on what is good for the country’s economy and its people. The economic challenges call for unity and consistency of direction.

The prerequisite for a workable long-lasting Charter of Economy and its effective implementation is a charter of democracy that is evolved within the constitutional ambit of a federal, democratic and egalitarian system, to salvage the central government from recurring political crises and instability. That will create an environment to enable both businesses and the people to prosper. The two charters have to work in harmony and not at cross purposes.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, April 11th, 2022

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